More bitter bile … and then there’s physics

Following a previous post that was picked up by Bishop Hill, the physicist-climate blogger Andthentheresphysics (ATTP) participated in two long-running threads there with comments running well over 500 in number. The discussions were successful and a plan for world peace was finalized.

On a serious note, it was a good exchange between several commenters. These are qualified professionals and hardened cynics with longstanding interest and strong opinions in climate. This is as good as it can get.

But it was not enough. After having roundly taken part, ATTP has gone back to his blog to bash Bishop Hill and its readers. As I was involved in both discussions, I am partly responsible.

Some background: ATTP banned me from his blog, not once but twice. His actions were replicated by his blog friends. But such actions were not limited – several commenters were serially handed bans one after the other. So history is not beautiful here and not on the physicist’s side. Despite the above, I engaged in both threads and particularly in the second one. The end result is here:

In my opinion Andrew Montford should be ashamed of the site he’s running, of what he promotes on that site, and what he allows people to say in the comments.

Using a blog handle means you can do things one using his own name wouldn’t do—like talking to people across the divide. As someone who kept communicating with ATTP despite repeated rebuffs from him and his moderator, I feel foolish. I don’t know why I tried. For some people sticking the climate knife is more importantI may be a sucker for punishment but good things have to come out at the end. 

Lessons learnt.

Greenpeace Nazca Lines Selfiegate

end greenpeace

Greg Laden, of the Soldiers of the Climate Consensus Brigade, is calling for the ‘end of Greenpeace’. This is his reaction to Greenpeace stomping around the Nazca lines taking pictures, leaving boot-prints and chicken scratches on the ground for posterity to endure.

greenpeace nazca letters-01 - Copy

The key to the mystery of Greg Laden’s reaction is that Greg Laden trained as an anthropologist. In his own words, Laden got a ‘fancy PhD from Harvard in Archaeology and Biological Anthropology’, and  Masters and undergraduate training in anthropology.

So you see when Greenpeace pulled their stunt the monumental stupidity of the act sunk right in. Laden got it right away.

This is not the only act of cultural vandalism in Peru. Earlier, Greenpeace parties visited Macchu Pichu doing banner drops and projection stunts. Craig Rucker of CFACT—one of the few skeptical organizations to attend the COPs—asked Greenpeace leadership about the locals’ reaction to their act:

Teske Machu Picchu-01 - CopyRecognize the person? It is Sven Teske – involved previously in permanently writing Greenpeace’s claims about renewable energy into an IPCC working group 3 report. You could consider it an act of scientific vandalism. When Steve McIntyre worked out Greenpeace’s handiwork he called for the IPCC WG3 to be terminated.

The pattern observed here won’t be lost on Greg Laden.


Is Lima a failure?

One more conference of the parties has ended. As many before, it dragged on beyond the deadline. Richard Tol remarks this is a tactic employed by developed countries and those with bigger budgets. They can afford large delegate contingents who work in shifts, driving the small country one-man army delegates to drop off from exhaustion, boredom and sleep deprivation.

Presumably this makes decision-making in the UN system easier.

Press coverage has been along predictable lines. There is one aspect that goes unsaid: almost everyone notes how each of the COPs result in an utter failure. Christopher Booker notes for example how every conference throws up as a ‘breakthrough’,  ‘a meaningless document that commits no one to anything’.

However we need to be reminded – this is the best thing that can happen. It is a ‘failure’ for the UN climate mechanism sure but it is the world saved for another year. Any other outcome from these COPs would mean that some countries or all countries have taken on a binding agreement to ‘cut carbon’, in other words hurt themselves and their economies. ‘Failure’ for the climate activist fantasy bubble means success for the rest of us.

The setting up transnational energy budgeting regimes with carbon inspection and verification systems would be the final neomalthusian-Orwellian nightmare. It is appalling the US and other developed countries push for such measures. The US and UK may feel compelled by domestic politics to show they are able to extract promises from China, Brazil and India. But was it their original intention to be monitoring how much gas the average Chinese citizen fills up in his car? Western regulatory systems tend to be absolutist. Issues are tackled with rules, frameworks, discipline, enforceability and penalties. Applied to carbon, it paves the way for future wars.

The far more rational approach is pointed out by Nigel Lawson. Instead of punishing oneself with carbon restriction, and then pursuing imposition of such punishment in other countries by various means, Lima should serve as a opportunity to rethink such self-imposed burdens as the Climate Change Act in the UK, or the EPA-mandated carbon rules in the US.

Contrary to developing countries foolish imaginings developed countries need their economies maintained. It is not just comfort and luxury that costs energy. Good governance, strict regulation, clean environments, digging out of snow and staying warm in the cold costs energy too. The so-called developed economies have poor people as well. They walk, travel by train or bus, buy essentials at discount grocery stores and don’t own homes. As Raghuram Rajan identified in Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy , a developed economy with open markets brings prosperity to ten others.

The COPs are the annual ritualized destruction of climate activists harmful ‘hopes’. Let us work to keep them that way. The conferences are expensive, no doubt but think of them as tithe to be paid yearly to the gods of environmentalism. Emerson said ‘experienced men of the world know very well that it is best to pay scot and lot as they go along, and that a man often pays dear for a small frugality.’


[minor edits]

Thanks Realclimate!

Realclimate’s running a post saying they’ve been around for 10 years, thanks etc. They say they are reflecting on their ‘impact’.

On this momentous occasion I want to thank … Realclimate.

In mid 2009, I got involved in an exchange with friends about climate. I followed environmental issues in the past but had kept away from climate. Naively I offered “Al Gore” as argument against climate hype and was roundly beaten back. ‘Oh, it’s all changed now” – I was told. “The science is completely settled, and the Arctic…it has melted away and almost gone”.

Embarrassingly, I was completely unfamiliar with “the science”. Thee question remained in my mind. How had the science changed? How were previous questions so conclusively ‘settled’? What ground-breaking study had accomplished this? What were the key papers that had managed to do it?

Later that year in November when Climategate broke I was at RC, front row seat. This was it – the people who had created some of the ground-breaking fundamental studies, exposed, representing and defending themselves on their own internet forum. The snooty airs of superiority, censorship, the whitewashing and lack of remorse was enough to set me on path to being a ‘climate skeptic’. So thanks, Realclimate.

I don’t think I am the only one with this experience. Paul writes about how he ran into Stefan Rahmstorf at Realclimate who appears to have tipped him over. Judith Curry is a well-known member of the ‘tipped over by RC’ club. You hear the same repeated over and over – almost as if Realclimate were one of the engines of distrust in the online climate world. Commenter Curt at Jeff Id’s blog’s says it:

… First found RealClimate, but it quickly put my internal BS detector into overdrive, both by its technical claims and its general attitude. …

That is the ‘impact’. As Nature reluctantly admitted ‘closing [our] eyes will not make the climate sceptics go away’. To which we can add ‘let alone going away Realclimate is making them everyday’.


The Grimm Letter

David Colquhoun writes in his blog of Stefan Grimm, a professor at Imperial College London who died in September. There is now an email circulating in Grimm’s name which speaks of his troubles with department administration:

In March ’14 I then received the ultimatum email below. 200,000 pounds research income every year is required. Very interesting. I was never informed about this before and cannot remember that this is part of my contract with the College.[…]

But the email below indicates otherwise. I got this after the student for whom I “have plans” received the official admission to the College as a PhD student. He waited so long to work in our group and I will never be able to tell him that this should now not happen. What these guys don’t know is that they destroy lives. Well, they certainly destroyed mine.


The cause of death is not apparent though it came ‘suddenly and unexpectedly’, we are given to learn. Nevertheless, if they had anything to do with it, it is painful to think a professor could be driven to the edge of life from funding pressures. Disturbingly, it means less harmful actions are likely far more common. Many bend, the uncompromising ones break.

When it comes to science one wonders how many labs, careers, and lives have been saved by little frauds and white lies.

TheresPhysics breathes fire, threatens to quit but no show

The blogger named Theresphysics became extremely upset after a few stops at Bishop Hill. Frustrated, he declared his intent to close shop. Only he did not.

As noted before, the climate orthodox position has many things but lacks a fighting presence on the internet. Realclimate, Thinkprogress, Deltoid, … – all dead ducks in the water. There is no vibrant community, wide-ranging discussion or fierce exchange of ideas. Hop over to Climateprogress and the customary Thanksgiving climate thread is overrun by climate skeptics from the Facebook world. Tamino’s blog? Shut down. Previous favourite Skepticalscience? Reduced to tumbleweed trash news aggregator.

The problem is that there are a good number of consensus supporters and activists who have nowhere to go. There’s only so long you can huddle in secret peer-reviewing John Hartz’s news snippets before you go crazy and start photoshopping Nazi insignia on your own faces and attire.

Physics provided a sanctuary for the sub-terminally climate displaced  If keeping an active and engaged group of commenters is hard work, constant policing and baton-twirling is harder. No matter, theresphysics put in the good work. Meticulously catching skeptic after skeptic in moderation traps he made sure they were never heard from again. The sanctuary grew, it became a cove shored up by moderation rules and hemmed with comment policies. A tranquil sea, cleansed of biting skeptical piranha. 

Except such a ecologic dead zone is a boring echo-chamber to live in. Thus finds Theresphysics trapped between the awful rude skeptics on Bishop Hill and WUWT on one side and the barren sterility of Moderatistan on the other.

Theresphysics’ case illustrates many of the problems with the climate debate since circa 2007. 

Good discussions used to take place, on occasion, at WUWT or BH. There were brief periods when the old Collide-a-scape blog and Bart Verheggen’s site provided such moments. They are hard to come by now. Maybe the consensus and conspiracy poison spread mindlessly and artlessly throughout the blogs by certain people is to blame.

A question of privacy

Brandon has seen some of the FOI-released ethics review material for the Cook et al consensus study. As expected, the bulk of the project was not covered by an institutional review. The application appears to have been made after its completion. While the full document is not out, it does appear John Cook and the University of Queensland pulled a fast one on Brandon.

The Cook project is a literature classification exercise whose reproducibility is suspect. Not wanting to release raw data, Cook initially declared volunteers participated in his project upon pain of confidentiality. Those who asked for the data were however consistent – the question was not the identities of the raters. To prolong prevarication, Cook turned to the leaked Skepticalscience forum contents. He insisted if he released raw data, inquisitive readers would—using the forum contents—put two and two together and out his volunteers. This meant Cook considered the forum contents firmly in the public domain.

The institutional review covers only scientists whom Cook contacted via email – as it stands to reason. Justification via institutional ethics to hold volunteer ratings secret was not viable. What is remaining? Only to assist Cook in keeping confidentiality of his volunteers intact.

It is no surprise Brandon, whom Cook nudged his university to bring legal threats upon, does not feel the pinch of obligation. It appears Cook’s raw data could appear in the public domain, as his secret forum already has.


The “False” Balance Scythe

False balance is an evergreen censorship tool in the climate censor’s armamentarium. A series of posts at Bishop Hill chronicle a remarkable sequence of events with Nigel Lawson founder of the GWPF falling to the false balance scythe.

The standard line on false balance goes something like this: there is a scientist/orthodoxy-approved spokesperson on one side and a crank on the other side, the audience cannot tell which is which. Both are presented on equal footing!

In reality, the picture almost never corresponds to the portrait. What is seen is an individual consigned (by chance or by choice) to the rather unfortunate position of standing by his or her own views versus an eminent scientist or activist with crank-like views on climate.

The audience cannot tell the difference.

Think about it: in what context would deprivation of fossil fuel use in Africa count as ‘mainstream’?

False balance is institutionalized ladder climbing for the climate agenda employing sceptics and cranks for leverage. ‘False balance’ is a small group of hardened activists turning silence and the disinterest of a large majority and the well-meaning engagement of a smaller informed minority against them both.

Judith Curry is biased because the state of Georgia denies evolution

I used to hear regularly climate scientist Robert Grumbine was a rational voice in the climate debate. Very balanced, sensible etc. I recently ran into Grumbine’s theory for why fellow scientist Judith Curry turned climate skeptic:

Grumbine’s comment: Intelligent

Curry became a skeptic to fit better with her Georgia colleagues who do not believe in Darwinian evolution and therefore do not believe in anthropogenic climate change –  so goes Grumbinian convoluted logic. His association with the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), it appears, helps makes such impressive leaps of logic.

For those not in the know, the National Center for Science Education is a ridiculous organization devoted to ‘fighting’ creationism and intelligent design in schools. They fight the good fight by filing court cases, making speeches and hosting such articles as Am I a Monkey by Francisco Ayala and the appropriately titled The Dawn of the Deed: The Prehistoric Origins of Sex by a John F Long.

As arrows of causality fly, it is infinitely more likely the NCSE glommed on to climate change as a cause than Judith Curry became a skeptic to please her neighbours. Why hold back from the vistas of activist opportunity climate change affords? Grumbine modestly admits it might have been he who egged the NCSE onto climate change.

Curry, on the other hand, informs us her skepticism comes at a cost at Georgia Tech.



Blame the University, Management and Administration

A London college is about fire hundreds of academics. David Colquhoun, a UK-based pharmacologist and an academic at Nottingham University UK has written about it. Colquhoun’s article is restricts itself to details of the obscure episode. Philip Moriarty of Nottingham has more general observations.

Colquhoun notes with no (apparent) trace of irony that being unceremoniously dumped was formerly a fate reserved for post-doctoral candidates.

Until recently, this problem was largely restricted to post-doctoral fellows (postdocs). They already have PhDs and they are the people who do most of the experiments.

Moriarty says his job is not to ‘secure research income’ but ‘to do high-quality research’.

A few reminders might be useful for Colquhoun and Moriarty.

In ‘regular’ times, university administrators are not the only ones who use publication records and grants as a metric for assessing ‘productivity’. Scientists do it. From lowly two-cubicle one-bench labs to the two-dozen-postdoc factories that churn out papers, grad students and professors talk in terms of abstracts and papers. Scientific productivity is measured in numbers of papers, grant money and number of grants. It is the lingua franca of scientific gossip, it is how scientists look up and down each other. The small labs behave no differently from the big ones.

Doing science and quality research takes a peculiar bent of mind. You might be surprised but this bent of mind is not a requisite to be in a lab. Hard work, diligence, a cheerful nature and obedience are. Let’s suppose you are actually fit to do science but lack one of these abilities. There is a good chance you’ll get drummed out.

Contrary to what Moriarty implies, there are no jobs that are about ‘doing high-quality research’. Despite attempts to the contrary, scientific advancement remains largely a product of serendipity (and pigheadedness). Science is a lottery – you may be brilliant and do high-quality work, but what you produce could well end up being crap.

In addition, Moriarty implies having more scientists in jobs is a public entitlement. But the forces of feedback set in motion by the very academics arguing vigorously for restrictions have to act somewhere.

For instance, you are a social sciences researcher consistently arguing for a carbon tax – with high-quality research. The state government listens, uses your papers as evidence and passes laws. Factories and farms shut down, the tax kitty dries up and soon you are having to close your lab and let go of your post-doc.

Go ahead, blame administration and management.

UPDATE: Stew Green points out in comments my post seemed to club Colquhoun and Moriarty’s views together. I thought I was separating the two in my first paragraph but maybe it was not clear enough.

Colquhoun refers to a PNAS article by former NAS head Bruce Alberts and former NIH boss Harold Varmus in his support. Interestingly, PNAS published a response (h/t Anthony Watts):

In their article, Alberts and co point out what they say is the ‘root cause’ of problems with research funding:

We believe that the root cause of the widespread malaise is a longstanding assumption that the biomedical research system in the United States will expand indefinitely at a substantial rate.

When people say they have identified a cause, they usually have identified an effect. The PNAS authors are no different here. An assumption, or an impression that biomedical research will ‘expand indefinitely’ but held by whom?

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